Wednesday, June 13, 2012

And in coming to earth

And in coming to earth, I felt the miles shed from me like the skin of an ancient beast; the patina of travel, the foul air of hotel rooms and railway stations soughed from my lungs like the last breath of winter. In my absence, spring had happened; the creamy pom-poms of flowers covering the rowan trees, the hedgerows alive with cornflowers and iris; blue and yellow, a teasing reminder that I was at home in Cumbria, no longer in Sweden.
After travel, I feel that my soul is strung out along railway tracks and airline flight paths, that there is a period of time following a journey in which the spirit takes some time to catch up with the body, that I am not wholly in place. I stare at the flourishing garden with a detached sense of unreality; the distant hills seem like a fabled place, an ancestral memory from a children's story of how the world was, before we remade it in our own image. I have a sense of a gathering-together of the scattered parts of myself, like the re-grouping of an expedition party after an arduous passage. I need to reconnect, to feel earth in my fingers once more.
In the early evening, I walk in the local nature reserve with my son, silently naming the flowers to myself like an incantation, trying to recognise the songs of the birds. The woodland floor is thick with ferns and honeysuckle, the air smells of the rich green, as though it has weight, texture, colour. I marvel at the fractal perfection of each fern frond, notice how a new plant from this spring sags under its own weight above the mosses. It bears a single yellow leaf; one of last year's from the birch trees above, carried skywards by the growth of the fern, its last trip towards the light.

On another fern, an early evening moth rests in the paling light, iridescent in its perfection. Moths are everywhere in the mealy scent of the woods, powdered for the night, lured by the promise of the honeysuckle and thistles, their names like a vespers prayer for the souls of the dead: Powdered Quaker, Dingy Footman, Clouded Drab.
Amongst this abundance of life, spiders and woodlice shrink into the dried humus of rotting logs, fungus thrive on the rich peaty earth. We stop to watch a woodpecker collecting food for its young; the chicks chirrup from a hole in a rotten tree, a constant thrum of thin, reedy noise, a craving for food and attention. All round us, the trees are crusted with dry lichen, each crisp yellow scale a marriage of opposites: the symbiosis between a fungus and a bacterium, the light-loving and the light-avoiding. They are a perfect metaphor for the shadows and light which shift across this woodland floor. 
  At this time of year, it seems that all is growth, all is decay. The insects and plants spin through life cycles too fast for us to follow, too impermanent for our human span, too close a reminder of the transience of spring, a warning of our own proximity to decay and decline.

1 comment:

  1. To check out the identification of the yellow lichen try a google image search on Xanthoria parietina. The symbiosis is usually considered to be between ascomycete fungi and green coccoid algae but nevertheless some endophytic alpha-proteobacteria are often present.

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